Located 285 km south of Sydney via the Princes Highway, and just 9 km up-river from Batemans Bay, Nelligen is little more than a hotel, a cafe, a guest house and a few homes on the edge of the Kings Highway between Canberra and the coast.
No one now knows how the township was named or what the origins of Nelligen were.
Various sources have claimed the Walbanga, Murrinjari and Bergalia tribes lived in the area prior to European settlement. In April 1770 Captain Cook noted Batemans Bay, as it is now known, at the mouth of the Clyde River.
The first major European survey of the Nelligen district took place in late 1827 when two young surveyors, Thomas Florance and Robert Hoddle, were sent by the Surveyor-General of NSW, Thomas Mitchell, to map the areas from Jervis Bay to 'Mherroyah' (Moruya), as is it was then known, and from Braidwood to Araluen.
By March 1828 Hoddle was surveying near the present site of Nelligen and in late 1829 he laid out 640 acres of 'good forest land at Nellican Creek' for a settler who never actually came to the district. By the 1830s timber cutters were in the district and in 1839 the residents of Braidwood were petitioning the Colonial Secretary for a road from Braidwood to Batemans Bay.
The discovery of gold at Araluen, Majors Creek, Captains Flat and Braidwood in the early 1850s ensured the future of the town. Some shaft mining even occurred at Nelligen. In 1853 a steamship was plying the Clyde River to the present site of Nelligen. That same year saw the commencement of a road from Braidwood, which was completed in 1856.
The town, which was gazetted in 1854, became a thriving port for gold, travellers, sheep, cattle and various kinds of produce. Gold was loaded on to boats headed for Sydney. At the time Nelligen was described as 'a stirring little township of bark huts, serviced by two large stores ... from which 18 or 20 teams left daily to convey goods, brought by twice weekly steamers from Sydney.'
A post office opened in 1858 and the town's first brick building, the Commercial Hotel, was erected the following year. In 1860 a timber watchhouse was built with courts of petty sessions being held from 1861. 1862 saw the discovery of alluvial gold at Kiamalla near Nelligen and the opening of the town's first national school in 1865. The first church was built in 1872. The Roman Catholic Church was erected in 1895-96. An electric telegraph station was opened at Nelligen in 1878. Although the population was 500 in 1892 (when Batemans Bay still only had 200 people) this number had declined to 353 by 1934.
Things to see
Historic Plaques and Buildings
The district's history has been well recorded on a variety of plaques located around the town. In the park by the riverbank there is a large map of the original town (circa 1854) which lists and locates 24 sites of historic interest including the site of the original ferry service across the river (which ran from 1895-1964) and the location of the first school (1865). Adjacent is the 'Bushranger's Tree'. A plaque on the tree explains that this rather unimpressive old stump is:
'The remains of the 'Bushrangers Tree' where it is maintained the Clarke Brothers were chained awaiting transportation to Sydney and execution on 25th June 1867 for multiple murders. The Clarke gang operated during the 1860s goldrush ambushing shipments from the Araluen and Nerrigundah fields, until cornered by troopers led by Aboriginal trackers in the Jingerra Ranges during November 1866.'
Also in the park is a plaque marking the site of the Illawarra Steam Navigation Company's storehouse and offices. This huge building, originally a double timber structure over 40 m long and 15 m wide, operated until 1952 but was allowed to fall into disrepair and was finally demolished in 1965.
Just to the south is the old Mechanics Institute and further south along the shoreline is a boat ramp. At the end of Braidwood Rd is the old Steampacket Hotel which was rebuilt in 1925 after a fire destroyed the original building which dated from the 1860s.
At 7 Braidwood St is the Old Nelligen Post Office Guest House, built in 1900 but fully restored in keeping with the original character of the building. Guided tours of the historic sites are conducted from here on weekends and public holidays.
The History of the Port of Nelligen by G.T. Reynolds, available from the Clyde River and Batemans Bay Historical Society is an interesting account of the town's changing fortunes.
Around the area
Those wishing to take a cruise along the Clyde River can choose from the Clyde Princess (02 4478 1005) or the Merinda (02 4472 4052) which operate every day.
If you are heading north out of Nelligen you may wish to take the scenic drive along the River Road which branches to the right off the Kings Highway 2 km west of Nelligen. It eventually loops back around to the Princes Highway. The route is signposted as a tourist drive.
The journey from Nelligen to Braidwood via the Kings Highway is beautiful and takes the visitor through spotted gum forests with their burrawangs of the Macrozamia genus. It has been suggested that the large number of these plants in this area may be due to Aborigines burning off their biological competition over a period of thousands of years. The local tribes used them as a source of food.